Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The God neither speaks nor conceals..."

A friend writes me concerning the funeral of a friend:
The day after she died somebody close to her dreamed that she flew off with iridescent dragonfly wings (I got the email about this dream the day after her death). Yesterday at the funeral (under a big tent outdoors), one enormous, singular dragonfly flew around, and perched above the podium for the entire event.
It is hard to know "what to do" with stories like this, and this very incapacity is why they are invaluable. Not because they demonstrate irrefutably the bankruptcy of "the materialist world view;" and not because they show how desperately we narrativize and pattern-seek to gain a shadow of 'meaning' at any cost. Rather, because their experiential force is such that we cannot dismiss them, and yet they just won't slip easily into any preordained category. If we seize on them as "evidence" of something, we slip into superstition. But if we blow them off, we do violence to ourselves. (Many are indeed prepared to bite the bullet and do this, but the cost of this is the chemical gelding of their souls. What they see as tough-mindedness I see as the intellect on steroids--and courting analogous side-effects). The only rational and human (I will even say "faithful") stance is one that sees in them as what Heraclitus said: "The God whose oracle is at Delphi neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign." This sign is not glossable (if it were, it would be "speaking"). It points us beyond this world, but not at the world's expense.


  1. Skoliast,

    Could you discuss more why I'm "doing violence" to myself or "chemical[ly] gelding" my soul by believing that the concurrence of a dragonfly dream and sighting has a mundane statistical/psychological explanation?

  2. I say nothing of explaining. I say "blowing off," which means dismissing as of no account.

    But if you press me on what it would mean to regard such events as "important", you see me fumbling in my pockets to see what I can come up with on the fly. Because, as I opened with, one just does not know what to do with stories like this. I don't have an answer, but I find the dismissal of these events profoundly unsatisfying--in just the opposite way a good scientific explanation satisfies.

    I'll add that, when it comes to synchronicities like this (I've hitherto avoided the s-word because of too many distracting associations, but it is one of the only available bits of shorthand around), the felt imperative to "not dismiss" them is very, very strong when the experience is first-person (when it happened to me), fairly strong when there is one degree of separation (it happened to the person who is telling me), and falls off dramatically after that.

    Last, I'll admit that the figure of speech I used was provocative (and I see that it provoked!) I actually hit on the chemical-metaphor first via the image of "intellect-on-steroids," and I'd be willing to dial back to there. I think the rational intellect is an explanation-seeking faculty, but there are in these events something unobtrusive and easily, but (I say) wrongly, dismissed, that indicates something about the limits of explanation. Not "the unexplainable", but the sense in which explanation is not to the point. This can be rationally "seen," but that's about it. (As I said, the question is "what to do" with them, and I've no practical solution.)

  3. Not much to add. I haven't stopped in here for a while. Great short piece.

  4. Skholiast, have you read Jeff Kripal's new book "Authors of the Impossible"? I haven't, but my sense is that he is examining similarly "uncanny" phenomena, and treating them somewhat like you do here. And I know Jeff's work is always an enjoyable read.

  5. Amod,
    I haven't seen this new book by Kripal, but it sounds good. I liked some of his book on Esalen and some of his essays on gnosticism. Thanks for the tip.